An assembly line can do a lot to boost efficiency, but what if the assembly line could do basically all the work itself. SoftWear Automation’s LOWRY, a sewing robot, does just that and has the potential to lead a charge of disruption throughout an entire industry.
Founded in 2015, SoftWear wants to “revolutionize the design, development and customization of apparel in the same way 3D printing has transformed the design, prototyping and production of durable goods,” according to then-CEO K.P. Reddy in a statement. The company says one robot can equal 10 workers and produce approximately 1,142 t-shirts in an eight-hour period, compared to 669 by humans working at full-speed.
LOWRY, the Atlanta-based company’s chief product, is a “lightweight, four axis robot used in fabric handling, pick & place operations and direct sewing.” According to the company, LOWRY uses a “high speed vision system to precisely track and prevent distortion of fabric – giving the robot a much higher level of precision and accuracy than its human counterparts.” That vision system essentially uses a roadmap of every piece of fabric in a shirt and takes a thousand images per second to keep track of where the fabric is at any given moment.
Although SoftWear can do anything from bath mats to tote bags, its bread and butter is clothing. The company just announced a deal with Tianyuan Garments, of Suzhou, China, the largest producer of apparel for Adidas, to help the Tianyuan make 800,000 shirts daily. Those shirts will be made in Tianyuan’s Arkansas factory, which will open in 2018.
Currently, SoftWear only sells LOWRYs in America, cautious with scaling too fast. It’s a principle that allowed SoftWear to get off the ground—an early client was the famed experimental Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in the US Department of Defense. Law mandates that the U.S. military buy products made in the United States whenever possible, and that includes a wide variety of objects that need to be sewed.
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